the weary world rejoices.
I feel the flame of the candle under my palm, close to burning. I have a candle to mark this season, and that is all. I have no Christmas objects, unless you count the unopened chocolate advent calendar strewn across the carpet at home. I don’t have a Christmas tree, unless you count the small, fake tree wrapped in cardboard in our basement. Advent means more to me this year than any other, but the pretty ornaments of Christmas will stay packed away this December.
The stillness of Advent is where my heart lies, while the wounds of the broken world are evident, sitting right before me. All is not calm, all is not bright.
I’m sitting here in a hospice, where life is savoured and death comes silent in the night. I wonder how I ended up here, with my daughter as a respite guest. In this season of children’s hospices and Christmas trees, I come softened and quiet in the presence of Jesus—my cloak of “inner strength” worn threadbare.
Christmas will be simple this year. We are in and out of respite care, and at the whim of my daughter’s medical needs. I don’t want to be busy; I’m tired of being tired.
And yet, this is where I catch a glimpse of the coming jubilee, in the wide open wilderness. There is a promise of a jubilee after the starved years—I just can’t see it yet.
On breathless days, I find myself asking God, “when will this weariness pass, and will it come again?”
This past year has been too heavy and I am waiting hard.
I wait in anticipation, gaping wide to receive the joy of my salvation.
I wait, while our 20-month-old daughter seems to get weaker and sicker.
I wait, though my heart breaks with heaviness for the fragile souls in this unkind world: the sick, the orphans, the poor.
When I feel barren, when the grief peaks, I want to tune my heart to sing and bring forth joy and be ravished by wonder, as Ann Voskamp says. It sounds impossible and a little insane, but I have to make room for it. Joy, in the busyness and the brooding, means Christmas as we know it is on pause this year.
What I want instead, is to experience the fullness of joy, right here in the muck.
God’s glorious joy goes far beyond me, nourishes deep into the marrow. It isn’t a feeling, or an emotion that carries me through the dark days. It is woven into my fibres, knocked hard into my bones. I need this joy, more than I need the traditions of this winter holiday.
This joy is the gift Jesus left when He ascended to Heaven, and it feels like the scars Thomas fingered when Jesus arose from the tomb. It feels like Mary Magdalene’s heart thrilling within her, at the sight of the cloth and tomb left empty.
In the midst of their grief and lament, He came and replaced their black sackcloth with a wild and shocking revelation. Can you imagine the rejoicing that took place when the disciples saw Jesus again? When He spoke peace over their hearts and breathed on them until they inhaled the Holiest of Spirits? Can you imagine the spine tingling, palpable joy in the room? It was indeed a holy joy, carried on the breathless declaration of Mary’s voice: He lives! He is alive.
He is enough.
He came fast, into the hay and manure of a barn. He came wailing for His mother’s breast. He came with scars, and holes wide in His feet. He came with an understanding of human suffering.
“I am here,” Jesus told Thomas after the resurrection. “I am here, and these flesh wounds are real, and I am alive. But son? Daughter? Remember this: blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
For the things we see, they will often overshadow the truth—they will mar our understanding of joy, hope and peace.
And so we wait, with the unseen things pressed deep within our hearts, our eyes fixed on Him.
This Christmas our hearts are full, but in the midst of the twinkling lights and carols, our hearts are still. It’s in this stillness, that we find the strength to breathe in His Majesty, and know that the babe born of a flesh woman, came to mend the broken things.
“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”